Challenges in the Philippines + video in Tagalog

I’ve already settled into Austin and am well into my ASL mission (first impressions & hopefully another video in ASL coming on Saturday!) but I thought I should wrap up the story of my time in the Philippines first!

The last time I updated I had just moved into the cottage on White Beach in Puerto Galera. My plan was to speak as much Tagalog with those working on the beach as I could during the week and then use weekends for when the beach would be packed with Manila tourists to really get some conversation practice. Didn’t quite work out so easy!!

Trouble in paradise

After a short time in Puerto Galera, I started to realise that it was actually a very bad decision to move there for the purposes of what I wanted to achieve in the Philippines! Unfortunately to save money on not paying per day, I had already paid for rental for an entire month on the cottage, so leaving was too complicated.

I chose Puerto Galera based on the advice of those I was hanging out with in Cebu for a fun spot that speaks Tagalog that isn’t Manila. I was clear that I didn’t want to stay in Manila because of the pollution (but see below for why that was a bad idea!) and I don’t like villages, so at least a well touristed beach would have some fun things going on. I’ve lived in touristy cities before (like Rio, Rome etc.) and learned languages no problem – it’s just a case of hanging out with the right people. In any city there are plenty to choose from!

But this was the first time in a while that I was attempting to learn a language in a small place like this. There were indeed things to do; I could continue my diving lessons to reach Advanced (and even added a Nitrox certificate to it for good measure), I got several diving lessons in French and spoke more French than English on the beach due to the amount of French tourists there were, there were parties almost every night, people from all around the world, and even a music festival with concerts. In fact, taking advantage of the tourists I spoke nearly all my languages on a regular basis!

So I did indeed have a lot of fun!

However, I didn’t manage to find my social balance to speak the local language as often as I usually do. The only Filipinos in that area were working 12+ hours a day (as waitresses, shopkeepers etc.) and were too busy to converse while working and too tired to hang out after work. In cities I always find students, or people that work 40 hours per week with free time etc. but I couldn’t find any Filipinos who could just hang out! Not any from the age group I usually spend time with anyway.

Actually, I did have Filipino friends not working full-time, but they were from other parts of the country and ironically couldn’t even speak Tagalog!! (Although they could understand it perfectly)

This hiccup costed me in terms of progress in the language, since all my conversations were brief and superficial. This is what those who are afraid to speak think it’s always like when you first try to learn a language. It’s not like this at all when you take part in real social interactions! That’s the reason I usually learn so quickly, and it’s something I was missing out on in Puerto Galera.

It turns out the Manila tourists would only come for one or two days maximum and be in tight groups not so interested in meeting others.

In general, as much fun as I did have, I can’t say I had the best time there. A beach destination like that sounds like a dream come true, but it’s really more suited to groups of people. As a single traveller, I will be avoiding such places for more than weekend trips from now on.

People ask me a lot if travelling by myself is “lonely”. The short answer is NO – it got me out of my shell of shyness and I have many deep relationships with people I meet when I genuinely live in a city, even if just for a few months. However, my time on this beach was frustrating and a bit lonely due to how superficial friendships with people just passing through was bound to be.

Good opportunity to learn about learning

Of course, I had been studying during that month in Puerto Galera, but passive studying with almost no speaking can only get you so far. There’s no way you can reach any decent spoken level just with books & audio, but at least I had quite a good passive understanding when people spoke and I could enjoy watching TV in Tagalog.

Rather than be full of regrets, this is part of the learning and experimentation process. When people think that the only challenges in reaching fluency are grammar and vocabulary I feel like they have very bad tunnel vision. Speaking a language is made up of so many factors, mostly influenced by social, psychological and lifestyle factors. Many of these will help you progress fast. And in my case, this time the challenge in finding the right people to even practise with due to choosing a touristy beach to live in was what held me back.

Ironically, it would have been easier for me to speak Tagalog consistently in many places outside of the Philippines :P

As always, any mistakes are to be considered ways that you learn what not to do. And this is no exception :) The language itself posed no major problems, and I actually quite liked it as explained here.

But the first weeks of travelling and the one month of barely speaking meant that I didn’t find the consistent immersion environment I usually rely on, so I didn’t precisely reach the conversational level I was hoping for. I could have limited conversations on particular topics, could speak myself slowly, and could understand the vast majority of what I’d see on TV or what someone would say when speaking to me if they did it slowly. (Interestingly enough, TV was easier since a lot of shows use a lot of Taglish, especially compared to how people speak outside of Manila).

This level I’m at is actually a pretty good place to be after just one month of genuine work (since I didn’t do anything with Tagalog while travelling in Cebu), but it’s less than what I tend to aim for and less than my target to speak like I could in Hungarian after two months.

Things got way better back in Manila!

Despite the majority of the time not spent speaking, when I got back to Manila for my final days I made dramatic improvements to what I had!

I feel so stupid now in the decision not to live in Manila – as I always say, cities just suit me better due to the many opportunities. My decision to not stay in Manila was based on the level of pollution I could actually feel when breathing on arrival. What I didn’t realise is that this was more due to the city district I was staying in, Ermita, which residents of Manila all agree is not pleasant to hang out long in.

When back the second time I was in another part of the city and it was actually fine! Since I have little experience with the level of pollution produced in Asian countries, I didn’t realise that it changes so dramatically between different districts. Had I known this, I simply would have moved a few miles and settled there for the full two months! Another lesson learned! [Doh!]

Manila would have suited me better because once I got back, I got into the usual flow I tend to have, meeting lots of people and practising nearly all the time. I progressed a lot in those last days!! If I had kept it up for several weeks, I would have actually gone beyond what I had done in Hungarian.

Singing Karaoke in Tagalog!

Since I promised a video anyway, here it is!

It shares something I did do in Tagalog a lot, even in Puerto Galera: singing! (In case you aren’t sick of hearing me sing in German, French and Spanish already!) I introduced the video in spoken Tagalog so you can hear the general flow I have now (still hesitating and lots to improve, but able to speak about a random topic)

In the intro I say:

[I’d like to share some Filipino karaoke with you! Karaoke is very important in the Philippines. It’s actually called “videoke” since there are random other videos in the background, along with the lyrics of the song. Now, I’ll sing to you!]

You might recognise the first song as the pop song “Umbrella”. This Karaoke machine didn’t have the lyrics of that song in Tagalog, but I didn’t need them after hearing it on the radio so much :P That’s why there is actually English behind me that I’m ignoring.

Next is a Taglish song that you’ll half understand (“pare” is like a manly way to say “dude”/”mate”), and finally a rap song! I thought Filipinos would like this choice with this white Irish guy is singing “I’m Filipino!” Then I end with a [thank you very much!]

What I was actually hoping to do was to record this in a public place that has Karaoke machines that look like weird video arcade machines, which I never saw before going to the Philippines. But after walking around for a few hours we could only find private stalls like this. It’s a pity as the environment with the silly old machines is much more fun – but apparently they are only really popular in the provinces.

Karaoke is so huge in the Philippines that it seemed appropriate for me to make the Tagalog video around this :)


I was sad to leave Manila! I was starting to have a lot of fun there, now that I could breath this time!

My favourite part of the country (apart from the karaoke) was definitely its people! Filipinos are so friendly, open and easy to get along with, and definitely encouraging with people learning their language! After 25 or so countries the Philippines now rank as my second favourite in the world! The top spot continues to be held by Brazil, but that could be challenged when I make it back to the Philippines some day and pick a better place to live in and get to know more people!

Since I will be very busy with other languages this year, I will not be working to maintain my Tagalog (the good news is that I am at least progressing in ASL in my first days at the rate I like). I will definitely consider getting back to it at a later time though! I didn’t get to know people deeply through the language as I usually would, but when they saw that I was trying to learn they really appreciated it, and it helped me to understand parts of the culture that other English-only expats are missing.

If you go to the Philippines and live around Manila, then I highly recommend you give it a try. Start dropping words into your English speech immediately to ease in with some Taglish and go out and sing a few karaokes :)

And keep it warm for me for when I get back ;)

Maraming salamat!



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  • Anonymous

    Wow Benny I’m so glad you had a good time in the Philippines despite the challenges, many travelers don’t end up appreciating whats there because it isn’t the classic backpacker experience. I hope to catch you on your second time through :)

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Sounds like a plan! ;)

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Sounds like a plan! ;)

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time here enough to rank it your second favorite! Thank you!

    I’m sorry you had to endure the really bad pollution in Ermita. I’ve never been there myself, and I’ve always been intimidated by that part of the city. Where did you stay in your second time in Manila? And I hope you didn’t experience the other bad part of living here, which is the traffic. >_<

    Kelan ka babalik? I would like to meet you! I'm a language dabbler, and have been trying to learn Japanese by myself since forever, but without a good immersive environment I cannot really progress much. Looking forward to reading about your adventures!

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yeah, traffic was crap, but I expected that :P
      I was in Quezon city for 2 days and then Makati for the rest of my time. I went to Ermita originally because I found a fantastic price on a nice hotel, but I had no choice but to hang out in air conditioned malls to avoid the pollution my first days.

  • Mike Stankavich

    You should have come visited us in Global City early on, then you would have seen that it’s not all like Ermita :) Glad you enjoyed your visit, too bad we didn’t get a chance to meet up this time. But no worries, I know how things get busy and time for meetups disappears.

    I like your tip on gradually incrementing the mix from English to Taglish. I’ll have to give that a try. One other thing that I’ve discovered is that the more technical the subject the more likely that it will be discussed in English. There are few if any Tagalog adaptations for major software packages, as there’s really no demand for it.

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, I was going to set up a meeting, but then I had a date & then the next night I went out for karaoke, etc.
      Do work on your Taglish, it’s really not that intimidating :) Talking technical will be more English, but this is less useful for socialising… unless you specifically socialise at nerdy conferences :P

  • Mike Stankavich

    And as for Puerta Galera solo, next time just find a Filipina girlfriend in Manila and take her to Puerta Galera :P

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Well, either she’d also be working online like me (which would be great) or I’d be paying entirely for her… which there were already plenty of girls in Puerto Galera (particularly Sabang) offering to be my “girlfriend” at a daily price…

      But yes, in general beach life would definitely be better with friends! And having a girlfriend is the best way to learn a language!

      • Mike Stankavich

        Haha yes, finding a girl who will pay her own way is a very different and more challenging proposition. There’s a cultural expectation that the guy will pay the way, and that expectation grows exponentially when you have a white face :)

  • Crno Srce

    I wondered why we weren’t getting regular progress updates! To be honest, it sounded right from the start like it wasn’t exactly the best thought out of plans – but you persisted, so good on you!

    I see that with ASL you are planning more regular video updates. Excellent – who cares what people think of it – the point is to help motivate you, hey? I think it will be really helpful to all of us to see your stages along the way. I just watched your Hungarian video and it was a really interesting snapshot, so please, keep the updates coming. I think the idea is to look at someone struggling a bit, but not avoiding conversation, because obviously the progress has to come in stages. Over time we will see how the skill evolves into something more like what a lot of us (myself definitely included) hope of one day achieving, but make the mistake of fearing mistakes and studying long periods in private in the never-ending quest to be “ready”.

    I know it might be a bit awkward to introduce your video camera at social gatherings, but hopefully the other attendees will be understanding about what you’re trying to achieve :-)

    Keep ‘em coming, Benny!

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Walking around with a video camera in social gatherings would just make people too self aware. I’ll ask individuals in advance if they don’t mind me recording them for later spontaneous conversations.

      Glad you’re enjoying the posts!

  • Andrew

    Fantastic summary, props to you for dealing with problems on the fly as best you could. I remember when you said you were leaving Manilla and I thought “oh, that’s a mistake…you know, if that were me and I was only going to be there for a month or two, I’d just say screw it and put up with the pollution, it’s only a couple months.” Now that I know that Manilla doesn’t even have a serious pollution problem if you stay in the right area, that’s even better! I’m definitely going to visit there some day so this information is very useful to me, your documentation of your mistakes is preventing other people from making them as well, so thank you for that.

    Learning how to sing and doing some karaoke is on my list of things to do, so I’m definitely going to have to spend some time in Asia. If you’re good at it, I’ll bet it’s a fantastic way to pick up girls, too ;)


    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      The best way to “pick up girls” is to just walk up to them and invite them out. No tricks. I don’t need to put on a show to do that ;)

      Thanks for the comment!

  • InfoHub

    Wow… I bow to how serious you are on learning languages. I too want to learn as many languages as I could and I must say it’s pretty hard to learn a foreign language without anyone to converse using the language.

  • Josh Andallo

    Sounds like you had a lot of fun in the Philippines. :) Nicely done with Tagalog; not quite there, but I can get the gist of what you said.

    One tip I have for you: The vowels are exactly the same in Spanish. Considering you’re fluent in Spanish, I trust Tagalog (in its vowels, at least) won’t be too hard. ;) Plus a lot of words in our language are the exact same meaning in Spanish (albeit spelling is very phonetic); though there are multiple exceptions: for one, the word “siguro” (from the Spanish “seguro”) doesn’t mean “exactly,” but “maybe.”

    • Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, the first thing I learned was the Spanish words and false friends ;)

      • Josh Andallo

        Cool! :) I think a language you can totally conquer as a Spanish speaker would be Chavacano, a sort of Spanish creole spoken in the southern Zamboanga region. I was watching a Spanish news report about Chavacano, and they said that despite some minor difficulties, they were able to understand the people there.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot


  • Diosa Quinones

    Oh my, I didn’t know Manila was getting some bad rep :| I think what many people don’t know is that there’s Manila (the city), and there’s Metro Manila (the region). But I’m glad you enjoyed your stay here!

    Thanks for having the country as your second favorite. Hope to see you on your next visit :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for reading and watching :)

  • Eduardo Avenir II

    Hi there I found your blog by chance when my friend posted a post on her facebook about your writing.  I’m filipino and smiled when I saw your video clip of you speaking filipino and doing karaoke.  Great stuff and hope you keep traveling and describing which places you visit and giving tips and advice.  Have fun and be safe!

  • Eduardo Avenir II

    Hi there I found your blog by chance when my friend posted a post on her facebook about your writing.  I’m filipino and smiled when I saw your video clip of you speaking filipino and doing karaoke.  Great stuff and hope you keep traveling and describing which places you visit and giving tips and advice.  Have fun and be safe!

  • Gloria Mesoza

    Dear Benny,  Thanks for the very kind words u said abt my country and my people.  Puerto Gallera is very nice as I had been there many yrs ago, but the rent is high.  You can learn Tagalog very fast if u stay in my town, Paete, Laguna.  People are very friendly, very laid-back and very artistic.  You can go abt town and find how they live and work.  Had I live in the Philippines now, I will personally invite u and u can stay in our very small house (LOL!).  Mabuhay at maraming salamat din!!!  Pagpalain ka lagi ng Poong Maykapal saan ka man naroroon ngayon!!   Lou.

  • Rita Carvalho

    I spent 4 months and a half in the Philippines and I see myself in your words. How I miss that country! 

  • Couryielle


    The diction and pronunciation could use some work but that’s pretty impressive for learning in such a short time! It’s always interesting to see how other people learn my mother tongue since I myself wouldn’t know how hard it is to learn Tagalog (as I’ve been speaking it all my life). This is certainly inspiring.

    Your ENTIRE blog is very inspiring. Salamat sa pagbisita saglit sa bansa ko :D

  • Chikoy Shi

    Hi Benny! I’m from the Philippines and I really like that you liked our country. I’m from the province and yeah, the karaoke in public places are very popular in the province. I like your adventures and I’m having fun reading it. Makes me feel like I’m also travelling which I hope I would accomplish also. Keep posting~ :)

  • Demi Barbra Angeles

    Masaya ako (I’m happy) na nagustuhan mo ang Pilipinas (that you liked the Philippines)! Kailan (when) ka babalik (are you coming back)? ^_^

    My friends from the US usually stay within or near Cubao, Quezon City.
    Found your blog via Stumbleupon, btw :)

  • Daniel

    Haha I didn’t notice any grammatical errors in your Filipino. However, I suggest that you learn the 5 basic vowel sounds in Fiipino (Same as in Spanish) to improve your Tagalog and I just noticed that 2 of your words (Sikat and kayumanggi) are slightly pronounced wrong. The emphasis of sikat is on kat, the last syllable, and its ka-yu-mang-gi (The g sound is pronounced after the ng sound). Nevertheless, let me tell you that Filipinos will appreciate foreigners learning Tagalog, no matter how slang. Haha :) Finally, I understand what you mean that many Filipinos can erfectly understand Tagalog but don’t really speak it. Mainly, ’cause I’m one of those people :P haha. I mean, I’ll be slightly weirded out if you speak to me in Tagalog. God bless!

  • Daniel

    Hi! Eastwood, Makati, and Fort Bonifacio are the most developed parts of our country. I have lived in Fort Bonifacio and I am currently living in Eastwood. I also have visited the “classiest” malls in Makati (The Ayala Malls) many times XD.

  • Mike Stankavich

    J, I’ll second that. My wife is Ilocano, so I have been to Ilocos many times. Interestingly there’s a higher percentage of Spanish borrow words in Ilocano than in Tagalog. But it’s still not the core of the language, as Benny accurately pointed out.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    That’s what I thought the first time I visited and stayed in the worst part of the city… which also happens to be where most backpackers end up. There is more to Manila than that.